On the outskirts of Wedderburn, you will find a farm where neat rows of prickly pear cactus bask in the sunshine alongside soft grey-green olive trees. This unlikely pairing has led to one of the most innovative and fascinating agribusinesses found in north-west Victoria.
The combination of cactus and olives by Chiron Organic Health has led to a range of pure organic products for gentle cleansing and healing. When Dr Natalie Alexopoulos, a medical research scientist specialising in reproductive technologies, was looking to purchase an olive farm to create her own range of natural remedies, she found one already planted with prickly pear.
As a qualified naturopath and nutritionist, it didn’t take long for Dr Alexopoulos to begin to appreciate the unique nutritional and healing qualities of the prickly pear. Her passion for scientific research combined with the search for a toxin-free life led her to develop a range of products using these gifts of nature.
“My love of herbs and plants of the Mediterranean has been long-standing and dictates the contents of our products,” Dr Alexopoulos said. “I wanted to be able to use all parts of the plant in some form or another in our products.”
At the farm in Wedderburn, ingredients for the products are grown on site, including the herbs, with all parts of the plants used. Chiron’s signature products use the fruit, flowers, seeds and pads of the cactus, making the most of the versatility and amazing health benefits of this plant. In addition, not only are the olives from the olive trees used, but also the pruned branches are made into charcoal which is incorporated into many products. Anything surplus is returned to the earth to nourish the plants and soil.
“Everything we grow goes into our products,” said Dr Alexopoulos. “It is very important to us to find ways to use all parts of the plant so there is no waste. Making new products is part of our challenge and innovation.”
The plants are hand-harvested to reduce waste, with much of the harvest occurring as needed to allow immediate use of the ingredient. This ensures the bioactive ingredients are potent, fresh and as nature intended. In this way, scientific research and traditional methods are paired to produce unique and innovative products.
The species of prickly pear used by Chiron Organic is Opuntia ficus-indica. Unlike other, more invasive varieties, the Opuntia ficus-indica is slow-growing and easily removed. The seeds may be spread by bird droppings but do not spread on the breeze. The prickly pear may be eaten by livestock, uses water efficiently and also prevents soil erosion.
The importance of the prickly pear cactus in nutrition and skincare has attracted world-wide attention and Dr Alexopoulos is collaborating with the University of Canberra to study the nutritional benefits of the prickly pear.
One of the earliest products developed by Chiron Organic Health was the baby care range which Dr Alexopoulos created after seeing the fast-healing results of olive oil and St John’s Wort. The range uses organic herbs and oils grown on site for gentle cleansing and healing.
“I strongly believe in food as medicine and in the body’s ability to heal itself” said Dr Alexopoulos. “I am always looking for ways to make more innovative products using what nature has given us.”
Chiron is an eco-conscious, certified organic producer of health products, including baby products, soaps, skincare and food supplement. Their products are completely toxin-free and sustainable, with many, such as laundry powder or gels, available in bulk or refillable bags to reduce packaging and waste.
The products are available from the online Facebook store, from the website and from farmers’ markets.